November 30, 2009

Tuesday, 12/1/09

Jonesin' 3:33
NYT 2:54
LAT 2:34
CS untimed

Apparently one of Matt Gaffney's recent weekly contest crosswords duplicated a theme previously used, unbeknownst to Matt, in another puzzle by Mike Shenk. Matt demystifies the process of building a crossword to explain how such accidental mimicry can and does occur at Slate.

December? Whoa.

Jonah Kagan and Vic Fleming's New York Times crossword

BREAKFAST gets parsed as "break FAST" and the other four theme entries begin with FA and end with ST:

• 18A. FAIRY DUST is a [Magical powder].
• 22A. FALCON CREST was a [1980s soap opera set at a winery]. I am reminded of those '80s prime-time soaps every time I see the principal at my kid's school.
• 35A. FATHER KNOWS BEST was a [1950s-'60s sitccom that ran on all three networks]. One at a time, I presume? Not during the same season?
• 49A. [Occasion for pumpkin picking] is the FALL HARVEST.

What else is in this puzzle? There's ILO-ILO, the [Repetitively named Philippine province]. Speaking of repetition, [Mine treasure] is both ORE and a LODE. One [Wine container] is a CARAFE, while other [Wine containers] are CASKS. The [Turkish headgear] called the FEZ joins the ILIAD, CAIRO, and EGYPT for today's Mediterranean fill, and the REED that's a [Papyrus plant, e.g.] might grow in EGYPT too.

The fill's not pangrammatic (no J), but there are Scrabbly letters in BOUTIQUE, ZEROES, and ALEX, [The"A" in A-Rod]. You know you've been doing too many crosswords when you try to complete that last one as ALER.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Randall J. Hartman's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Dam Break"—Janie's review

The title tells us from the get-go that somehow we're going to see the word dam in each of the theme phrases and that the word'll be broken up—but exactly how Randy would do that remained to be seen. Would the letters bookend the phrase or would they fall between two words? As is turns out, it's the latter. Now, while I find the gimmick and the theme fill a tad on the dusty side, I really liked seeing that in each case, the "D" falls in the same spot in its respective row, so that all three of the DAMs are aligned in the grid. That's a nice touch. And here are they are:

• 20A. ROALD AMUNDSEN [First person to reach the North and South Poles].
• 40A. SECOND AMENDMENT [Constitutional protection for gun owners].
• 55A. BLIND AMBITION [1976 tell-all book by John Dean].

There are other nice touches throughout, both in the fill and in the cluing. I liked starting out with the rhyming RAGS/[Scandal sheet] and WAGS/[Witty ones]. And there was something pleasing in seeing "NEAT IDEA!"/["Great thought!"] and GOOD DEED [Samaritan's act] running vertically down the grid. Ditto WOODWIND and BLEAK HOUSE. GO TO PIECES/[Lose it] at first made me think of Patsy Cline, but she fell to pieces. Peter and Gordon ("British Explosion" [light-] rockers), on the other hand, did "Go to Pieces."

Speaking of Brits, ADELE [2009 Grammy winner for Best New Artist] was a complete unknown to me. Go ahead. Tell me I'm living under a rock. Here she is singing "Right as Rain"—not to be confused with Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen's "Right as the Rain." (Harburg also wrote the lyrics to the song ["If I Only] HAD [a Brain"].) Other women with an artistic bent to get a shout-out today include NORA/[Director Ephron], REESE [Witherspoon of "Walk the Line"] and LIZA [Entertainer Minnelli], who first came on the scene in a little Kander and Ebb show called Flora, the Red Menace, but that Flora was not today's FLORA, which was clued as [Lady's-slipper and baby's breath]. And notice the lovely way IRIS/[Spring bloomer] crosses flora. Quite a little nosegay in that SW corner.

Props, too, to [Mail for King Arthur] for ARMOR, [Moon shot?] for TUSH and [Punk rock?] for PEBBLE. Took me a while to experience the "aha" for that last one. But it was worth the wait.

Not that this is a heinous offense, but even though it's clear they mean different things, I wish Randy had avoided including both A LOT / [Gazillion] and LOT [Auction unit] in the same puzzle. This repetition could have been avoided in any number of ways. Lot shares a final "T" with BEAT, so that letter could have been a D, M, N or U; and it falls from the final "L" in DUAL, so there was also the option of changing that shared letter to a D. Whether or not this gets changed for some other incarnation of this puzzle, life as we know it will go on. Just sayin'.

Dave Hanson's Los Angeles Times crossword

I don't recognize the name in today's byline. A debut for Dave Hanson? If so, congratulations!

The theme is really icky, or should I say "ICKy." Each theme entry contains two ICKs but in four different ways:

• 20A. [Dickens hero with "papers," as he is formally known] is MR. PICKWICK, with a "MR." in addition to the two *ICK syllables.
• 51A. [Unflattering Nixon epithet] is TRICKY DICK, with the adjectival -Y sneaking in there.
• 10D. [Surprise football plays] are QUICK KICKS, with a plural not seen in the other theme entries. Is this a familiar term to football fans? I don't know it.
• 29D. [Girls-night-out film] is an unadorned CHICK FLICK.

There were some random ICK sounds lurking in the grid, presumably by chance. John Milton's EPIC, ODIC [Like many Keats poems], mind-reading PSYCHICS, and the CHICLE that's in gum. I haven't had Tiny Size Chiclets in years, but the word chicle always makes me want some. And then I start thinking about those sacks of gold nugget gum. If they would make sugarless versions of both, I tell you, I'd always have one or the other on hand.

RARA isn't in as many crosswords as it used to be, but when it is, it's often clued with [___ avis], Latin for "rare bird." Today the clue is 15A: [Not often seen, to Caesar]. Least familiar answer: OUT YEAR, or [Annual period beyond the current one]. There's actually a lot of fill here that seems tough for a Tuesday, but the crossings are generally easy. This puzzle might require a little more back-and-forth eyeballing of crossings to piece everything together.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Bank Job"

I like the title of this puzzle better than the theme entries—73A: SNOW is a [Word that can precede either word in] the theme entries, but unlike "Bank Job," the four theme answers are made-up phrases:

• 17A. [Macho way to say "dandruff"?] clues MAN FLAKES. Okay, that's funny.
• 66A. PEAS DRIFT is [What somehow happens to the vegetables in your TV dinner?].
• 11D. TIRE BLOWER is clued as [That sharp nail in the road you just ran over?].
• 30D. [Tool used to clean out the pits in kiddie playlands?] clues a BALL SHOVEL. Actually, I think massive quantities of disinfectant would be better than a shovel.

Favorite clues/fill:

• SHAFT is clued with the lyrics ["He's a complicated man / but no one understands him/ but his woman"]. True story: My good friend Amy danced with Richard Roundtree, the actor who starred in Shaft, when she was about 5. She told the tale on public radio a couple years ago.
• ["Liquid sunshine"] is a lie. That ain't what RAIN is. Dang, I thought the answer was going to be something like TEQUILA.
• O'HARE is clued as a [Frequent site for fligth layovers]. Do you know I have never once had a flight layover in Chicago? True story. And living in a centrally located hub means I can get a direct flight almost anywhere I want to go.


November 29, 2009

Monday, 11/30/09

BEQ 8:20
NYT 3:02
LAT 2:26
CS untimed

Holy schnauzer! I see that this is post #2,028 here at Diary of a Crossword Fiend. I meant to mark #2,000 but it snuck by me. Coming soon: A blog contest! Inspired by Brendan Quigley's list of "Ten Bullsh*t Themes," the prizes will include Brendan's new book, Diagramless Crosswords, along with Simon & Schuster Mega Crosswords.

Also coming soon: A new home and a new look for this blog. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Dave Sullivan over this long weekend while I was lolling in Wisconsin and enjoying family time, the new site is almost ready to be unveiled. You can hardly wait, I know.

You know who else slaved away over a hot blogstove all weekend? Crosscan, Joon, PuzzleGirl, Sam, and Janie, that's who. Beaucoup thanks to all of them!

Oliver Hill's New York Times crossword

Quickly, because this puzzle came out hours ago and post-getaway laundry won't dry itself—

The theme is ___ TRAPs: LIGHT SPEED, AS QUIET AS A MOUSE, BLUE-FOOTED BOOBY, and GEORGE SAND suggest speed trap, mousetrap, booby-trap, and sandtrap. Gotta love the BLUE-FOOTED BOOBY—friend of mine took a trip to the Galapagos and took great pix of the boobies with variously colored feet. I'm not sure how the theory of evolution accounts for dull-feathered birds with bright blue or red feet.

Kudos to the editor and/or constructor for cluing NURSED as [Breast-fed]. Man, I hope no bluenoses write offended letters to the Times complaining that breast-feeding violates the breakfast test. Kudos, too, for the PLAYMATE being a [Child's friend] rather than the subject of a Playboy pictorial.

Favorite fill: QUIT IT; the AL DENTE / ZIT line; ROD CAREW's full name; the three-in-a-row Down answers LOO, DOO, and ZOO; and DADDY-O. BIC is clued as an [Inexpensive pen]; anyone else see the magazine ads promoting Bic pens, lighters, and disposable razors with a single cents-off coupon? Less fond of TRAYFUL, E-BONDS, and the doubling up on UPDATE/UPMOST.

Updated Monday morning:

Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Knot Now"—Janie's review

Anyone out there read Annie Proulx's The Shipping News? One of the many things I liked about the book were the illustrations of knots that were part of almost every chapter. They were taken from The Ashley Book of Knots which, it just so happens, is available as a free e-book. Today, each of Ray's fresh theme phrases begins with a word that also describes a particular kind of knot. And those'd be:

• 20A. WINDSOR CASTLE [Queen Elizabeth's weekend getaway]. Here's a "how to" in, um, seven easy steps...
• 37A. GRANNY SMITH [Green apple variety]. Here's one kind of granny knot.
• 44A. SQUARE DANCE [Where callers are heard]. Loved this one, because I really didn't understand the clue until the fill became clear. Also, the square knot is just about the only knot I know how to tie: left over right and right over left. Or the opposite.
• 59A. OVERHAND PITCH [It was legalized in baseball in 1884]. Nice little factoid, no? And here's yer basic overhand knot, which bears a striking resemblance to a pretzel. Yeah. I can do this one, too.

While the theme may have been "knotty," the puzzle as a whole was easily and enjoyably solved. Little Jack Horner of English nursery rhyme fame got his day in EL SOL [The sun, in Seville] with not one, but two clue/fill combos: ["...and pulled out] A PLUM" and ["...and said, 'What a good boy] AM I!'" While we're in the nursery, let me not forget to mention CHOO, which has been clued as [Half a toy train?]. Let's just hope that when the child with but half a toy train starts to read, he or she gets an entire primer. Cut-backs are one thing, but Dick without JANE? Next thing ya know that [Double Dutch need] (and knot-tying need...) ROPE will be for—well, is there such a thing as "Single Dutch"? I think not. But look, the National Double Dutch competition is coming up. This may be worth looking into!

In the legal world, the [Burden of proof] ONUS is on the prosecutor, who pleads his or her case before the judge or judges. When the robed ones are hearing a case, they are said to be sitting en BANC. So they're the ones who have a [Seat at the court]. In the world where the "higher law" must be answered to, someone who's been very, very good might be recognizable by his or her HALO [Heavenly ring] (or HARP, perhaps). And a [Heavenly aquarium addition?]? Why, that'd be an ANGEL FISH, of course. (Ray also gives us the WAHOO, a [Dark blue food fish]. This was new to me, and is a nice change from ["Yippee!"].)

Other fill that kept the puzzle lively: CHI-CHI [Hoity-toity] (I like that clue, too) and TOP DOG [One of the highest authority]. We've seen fat cat a couple times in the past few weeks, so I was glad to see a little balance among the species.

Pancho Harrison's Los Angeles Times crossword

Aw, look at 1-Across: [Vikings quarterback Brett] FAVRE. FAVRE turned 40 last month, and would you look at the season he's having with his erstwhile NFC Central/North rivals? My son was OK with his Bears losing yesterday because the Vikings are his second favorite team. If only FAVRE had come to the Bears instead of Jay "Interceptions and Fumbles" Cutler.

The theme is either flawed or fresh: The three longest entries start with synonyms, but one of the synonyms is two words while the others are single words. Is it a nice twist or an unexpected hitch to have TAKE OFF, not TAKE, match up with SPLIT and LEAVE? I'm OK with it. TAKE OFF WEIGHT is clued as [Shed some pounds]; SPLIT THE PROFITS is [Divide earnings equally]; and to LEAVE A MESSAGE is to [Talk to the answering machine].

In the fill, the stars are OLD YELLER (which I haven't seen...I don't want to cry) and AUSTRALIA. Not fond of AGERS and APER. The iBOOK is now dated fill, but it's easier to fit into a puzzle than the MacBook Pro or the AirBook.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Monday"

This puzzle kicked my ass. Chess fans may appreciate 1-Across—ZUGZWANG, or [Unpleasant obligation to move, in chess]—but those who've never encountered the term must rely heavily on the crossings. And 1-Down wasn't helping—["Hannah Montana," e.g.] is a teen sitcom but also, apparently, a ZITCOM. Now, my kid watches some of the Disney Channel's sitcoms for tweens and I read Entertainment Weekly religiously, but ZITCOM was not coming to the fore of my brain. Gah.

How are NITS [Small prevarications]? I've never seen the word used to mean lies. I had FIBS there for too long. Plenty of other wrong turns, too. GAINS instead of EARNS and THETAN instead of THEBAN because I was originally thinking CRETAN mucked up the race horse BARBARO, who was looking like TARBUIO or TARBAIO (the A-vs.-U was JANE, [Alec's twin sister in "Twilight"], and I guess Brendan is more caught up in Twilight-mania than I am. Brendan, you didn't seem the type. I also figured [Acting together] would be ***ING UP rather than IN LEAGUE.

["Eek!"] clues DEAR ME, which is goofy but worlds better than OH ME and AH ME, which I suggest nobody has uttered in a century, if ever. Until now! I have begun using AH ME and OH ME, but so far have had no luck getting my husband to join in. Won't you help popularize these words of regret and despair? It's either that, or we have to insist that constructors stop using these entries altogether. Do any of you have an in with Stephenie Meyer or the writers of Hannah Montana? That could break OH/AH ME wide open. I'd tell you I was saying "Oh, me!" in my head while working on this crossword, but that would be a small prevarication.


November 28, 2009

Sunday, 11/29/09

NYT 23:39
BG 28:08
Reagle 19:31
LAT 20:58
CS 31:35

Team Orange weekend coverage continues. Now, from our Seattle bureau, here's Sam Donaldson.
Happy Sunday, everyone. Orange and her DSL-like solving times will reclaim the throne tomorrow, but today you get the analysis of a dial-up solver for the Sunday crosswords.

Will Nediger's New York Times Crossword, "Cued Up"
As a solver, I'm easy to please. I love wacky, envelope-pushing Krozel-esque puzzles as much as the next guy, but honestly, if you give me a simple theme and execute it really well, I'm just as happy. Today's NYT is a fine example: a simple letter-addition theme that is elegant and enjoyable. Nediger inserts a "QU" somewhere inside seven common phrases and then clues the wackiness that results. Behold the delights that unfold:

  • A [Delighted exclamation?] is a SQUEAL OF APPROVAL (the "QU" is added to "seal of approval"). I wonder if Will had "Navy Squeal" somewhere on his short list when constructing this puzzle.
  • [Part of an Irish playwright's will?] is a WILDE BEQUEST, which is what you get when you add a "QU" to the wildebeest, nature's "before picture." This was the cleverest theme answer, I thought.
  • A [Carsick passenger?] is a QUEASY RIDER, from the infamous film, "Easy Rider." Because of the film reference, I wanted a clue that related to motorcycles, but this one is quite fine.
  • QUALMSGIVING is clued as [Causing uneasiness?]. Until a minute ago, I would have thought that "almsgiving" was forced. I have always heard of "giving alms" but not "almsgiving." But a quick Google search reveals that I have been living in Landbackwards all this time. This is why we do crosswords, right? It's not to stave off ... oh, I forget what they call it. It's about learning new stuff in fun ways.
  • [Carryin' on, in olden times?] is a well-written clue for QUAINT MISBEHAVIN'. "Ain't Misbehavin'" was the first musical I ever saw live. I still remember the song "The Joint is Jumpin'" with fondness. Come in cats and check your hats, I mean this joint is jumpin'! But back to the clue: notice the last letter missin' in "carrying" sends the signal that similar hijinks are lurkin' in the answer. A great hint to a fun answer.
  • [Anger at losing one's flock?] is SHEPHERD'S PIQUE (from shepherd's pie). This bothered me at first since the insertion of the "QU" changes the pronunciation of the altered word, but the same happens with wildebeest so it's technically not inconsistent with the others.
  • Finally, [Subjugation?] is a VANQUISHING ACT (from "vanishing act"). What a terrific answer! The clue itself would be a fun entry in a freestyle puzzle. Hold on a second - I need to write that down.
I have a feeling that QUEASY RIDER was the GERM [Starting point] for this puzzle, but there are so many other good ones here that I can't be sure. Engineering fresh fill around so many Qs is not easy, but Nediger's grid has lots of good stuff. And it appears we're only a "J" shy of a pangram in this grid, for those who care about such things. Highlights include: PLAN A, the [Primary stratagem]; MINI-GOLF, clued as [It may feature a windmill]; BEAVIS, the [TV character often seen in a Metallica T-shirt]; MIST OVER, or [Get fogged up]; UNDIES, clued somewhat deceptively as [Drawers, e.g.]; and BOB SAGET, the [Narrator of "How I Met Your Mother"] and a prominent figure in the movie, "The Aristocrats." Trust me, you'll never look at Bob Saget the same way again after you see that movie (or as much of it as you can stomach, anyway). I loved it, but I have a high tolerance for offensive material.

Those who, like me, enjoy proper names in their puzzles had more than Bob Saget and Beavis on which to feast. There was the Hindu god VISHNU (the clue tells us [Krishna is one of his avatars]), ["Tamerlane" dramatist Nicholas] ROWE, Tom SNYDER of "The Tomorrow Show," the poet James Whitcomb RILEY crossing Mets general manager OMAR Minaya, and Iranian supreme leader ALI Khamenei, among others.

I fell into a few traps, but few of them bogged me down for a long time. I tried NO-HITTER and PERFECT GAME for the [Pitcher's feat] until I came to ONE-HITTER. Then I tried AMOEBA for [One surrounded by cell walls] before tumbling to INMATE. The "A" at the insersection of Pierre de FERMAT, the [French mathematician who pioneered in the theory of probability], and ["Jour de Fete" star, director, and writer] Jacques TATI, was a total guess. Others may have had a hard time in that area too if they did not know CERT, the [Legal writ, in brief] that's short for certiorari. I also had a hard time with the clue for NOUN, [It may be declined]. Apparently, when you change a noun to distinguish the singular from the plural, you "decline" it. Huh, go figure.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe Crossword, "Address Book"
Hook subjects seven different terms commonly found in physical addresses to a little wordplay. Some of the results are stellar; others are a bit--get ready--pedestrian.
  • [Miss Muffet's address?] is HER CURDS AND WAY, playing off Muffet's legendary prowess at eating "her curds and whey" provided she remain undisturbed. The "her" part is awkward, but apparently necessary to make the symmetry work.
  • [New mom's address?] clues UMBILICAL COURT, a variation of the umbilical cord. I love this one, even though I think I said "Eww" aloud as I was writing it down. I suppose Umbilical Court is a one-way street.
  • [J.B. Fletcher's address?] is MURDER SHE ROAD, based on the old "Murder, She Wrote" series on CBS. I've never watched an episode of this show, but I certainly saw enough promos during CBS football games to be aware of the Jessica Fletcher character.
  • HAMMER AND CIRCLE is a [Communist's address?] that draws from the old "hammer and sickle" symbol on the flag of the former Soviet Union. If your knowledge of recent history is limited to what you know from crosswords, let me translate: the flag of the USSR (or CCCP), the collection of SSRs, had a hammer and sickle on it.
  • [Halloween party address?] clues TRICK OR STREET. This one seems a bit dull to me. Nothin wrong with it, of course, but it pales next to many other theme entries in this puzzle.
  • My favorite one of the bunch is the [Cordial host's address?], BEEN NICE AVENUE ("Been nice having you"). This took me a while to uncover since I was slow to see "avenue" as two words and not one. Then, when I had consecutive E's preceding consecutive N's early in the entry, I was sure I had made an error. But when I finally got it, I loved it.
  • Finally, the [Liberator's address?] is SIMON BOULEVARD, a twist on South America's Simon Bolivar.
Check out how Hook manages to place one theme entry directly atop another in both the NW and SE! If a mere mortal attempted this, the fill would be compromised beyond belief. Hook is one of, what, a handful of constructors that can make this look easy? Sure, each of the corners features some less-than-stellar fill: a partial name (!) (LEE DE-Forest, the inventor of the vacuum tube), a partial chorus (the [Kiddie-song ending] EIO, the last 60% of Old McDonald's "E-I-E-I-O"), a strange French word (INCONNUS) clued as [Strangers, in Strasbourg], and LAFEU, the small-fries role of an [Old lord in "All's Well That Ends Well"], come readily to mind. But the rest of those corners were, I think, entirely legit.

There is much to love in this grid. [Scout master?] is a fun clue for TONTO (Scout:Tonto :: Silver:Lone Ranger). Other fun clues included [Some like it hot] for TEA, [First word of "Kokomo"] for ARUBA, and [Take a ride?] for HIJACK. Today's confession = I plunked down OH SHEILA, the [1985 Ready for the World hit song], without a single crossing to help. One need not be proud of everything buried in one's mind. Look for it on YouTube and you'll know my shame.

I struggled mostly in the far east section of the grid. I nearly got a migraine from IGRAINE, [King Arthur's mother], and it did not help to be unfamiliar with the [Lupin of whodunits], ARSENE. Any time I see the name "Lupin" I think of the Harry Potter novels. The [Pacific republic] of NAURU required every single crossing to get, and even then I was unsure whether I had it right. Below all of that, you had to grapple with four intersecting proper names, BARA, BELA, JEREZ, and JOLENE. I was lucky to know three of the four (only Jerez eluded me), but other solvers may have hit a wall here. The only other entry to stay hidden for a long time was PONIARD, the [Thin-bladed dagger].

Finally, if I had a vote, I would nominate the clue for MASON-DIXON, [Their line was in real estate], for a 2009 Oryx. That's just a thing of beauty. OK, so far Oryxes have only been given to entire crosswords and not to individual fill or clues, but if the Oscars can award supporting cast members separately and expand the Best Picture field from five to ten films, there should be some room to give special recognition to great clues that almost single-handedly make the solving experience a delight.

Merl Reagle's Syndicated Crossword, "The Furry Thought of You"
Reagle proves once again that when it comes to puns, he is the cat's meow. This puzzle offers seven purr-fect phrases with a feline touch. Okay, retract your claws--I'll leave the cat puns to the master.
  • [Cat's new "I've chased my last rodent" attitude?] is NO MORE MR. MICE GUY (a play on the common "no more Mr. Nice Guy" phrase).
  • [Washed oneself thoroughly?] is LICKED HIGH AND LOW ("looked high and low"). Sometimes a puzzle needs a title. This theme entry is a case in point: it was the first theme entry to fall for me, and if it weren't for the puzzle's title, my mind would have shot straight to the gutter. Well, maybe it did anyway.
  • The [All-natural cat drink from Celestial Seasonings?] is HAIRBALL TEA. I kept wanting this to be FURBALL TEA and I'm not sure why I was so resistant to the correct answer.
  • It takes two entries to uncover the place [Where cats dream of living?], DOWN BY THE / OLD MILK STREAM (from the song, "Down by the Old Mill Stream").
  • Likewise here, we need two entries for the [Cat's singalong instruction], FOLLOW THE / POUNCING PAW ("follow the bouncing ball").
  • A [Cat's favorite Ingmar Bergman film?] might be CRIES AND WHISKERS ("Cries and Whispers"). The title is familiar enough to me that I could discern the pun, but I haven't seen it and know nothing about it.
  • Reagle knows how to save the best for last: the [Cat's favorite play?] is RO-MEOW AND JULIET.
Despite the relatively quick solving time (for me), there were some thorny entries that slowed me down. I don't think I have ever seen VIANDS, a supply of [Food], and it didn't help that it intersected with ODALISQUE, a [Harem girl]. Fortunately I was familiar enough with YAQUI, an [Indian of Sonora, Mex.]. If not, that corner might have become unsolvable. Nearby sit Nabisco's UNEEDA biscuits from 1898. Biscuits from 1898? Merl, seriously - uneeda clean out your pantry. Up in the north, INGLE, the [Brit's fireplace], didn't make me tingle, but all of the crossings were fair. In the SE, TOY SALES, the [Post-Christmas events], struck me as a little forced.

The hardest intersection for me was where PULI, the [Hungarian sheepdog], met [Actress Joanne] DRU. Part of the problem was that I was sure "POUNCING PAW" was supposed to be "BOUNCING PAW," and BULI seemed just as right to me as PULI. And for some reason, I wanted the [Cheery word?] to be TAH instead of RAH. I was thinking "Ta-Ta," as in "Cheerio, chap." Then I was sure it was AAH, since the second letter in Joanne's name just had to be a vowel. And c'mon, a cheery person would be inclined to say "aah," right? Now that I write this out, of course, I see how silly that is, but in the heat of the solve I can get pretty stubborn with myself.

Always happy to see MR. BILL, the [Victimized clay guy on "SNL" reruns], and ERNST, [007 foe's first name]. Blofeld, Ernst Blofeld. And how appropriate for this puzzle that Blofeld was often featured with a white cat in his arms. Even though I tend to prefer dogs to cats (I have a mild allergy to cat fur and I find most cats a little aloof), I had a good time with this puzzle. And it didn't make me itch.

WARNING: If you have not yet completed today's NYT puzzle, this part of the posting will make reference to that puzzle so STOP RIGHT NOW (or skip to the CrosSynergy discussion below).
Peter Wentz's Los Angeles Times Crossword, "Right on Cue"
Oh no! Two newspapers have come to the party in the same outfit! A constructor's second-worse nightmare! (The worst, I think, would be seeing a paper run the same theme just a few days before your puzzle is scheduled to appear in a different paper.) I feel badly for both Will and Peter. I can't help but compare the two puzzles, just as Us Weekly does with its "Who Wore It Best?" feature. The good news in all of this is that the two puzzles were sufficiently distinct that I enjoyed them both. Don't make me pick one, a la "Sophie's Choice." I can love them both equally.

In this puzzle, Wentz *ahem* adds a "QU" to the start of seven common phrases and then clues the wackiness that results. Unlike the Nediger puzzle, all of the "QU"s this time come at the front. In that regard, the theme entries here are a little tighter. Fortunately, only one of the theme entries in Wentz's puzzle overlaps with those from Nediger's puzzle:
  • [Charmin' way of actin' up?] leads to the overlapper, QUAINT MISBEHAVIN'. In case you have forgotten, "Ain't Misbehavin'" was the first musical I ever saw live, and yes, I still dig "The Joint is Jumpin'." Oh, and this too is a well-written clue for the reasons described above. Let's just move along to the never-before-seen theme entries.
  • To [Annul in the middle of the week] is to QUASH WEDNESDAY, a play on "Ash Wednesday." I'm not sure "in" is appropriate for the clue; to me that makes sense only if the entry read QUASH ON WEDNESDAY. I think I would prefer [Suppress the middle of the week?] as a clue for QUASH WEDNESDAY.
  • [Calculation for an express delivery?] is a QUICK FACTOR. I like the base phrase "ick factor," a measure of gore or grossness. Here's a case where the wacky phrase is actually duller than the base phrase, and that's not usually the way you want to go.
  • [Ends it, to one's subsequent regret] is QUITS A GOOD THING. Since Martha Stewart is famous for saying, "It's a good thing," it would have been fun to see her used as part of the clue.
  • A [Sick feeling on campus?] is QUAD NAUSEAM, building off the common phrase "ad nauseam." I liked this one, perhaps because it hits home. Like many campuses across the country, my school has been at DEFCON 2 since the start of school with worry over the H1N1 virus. We now have hand sanitizer dispensers installed throughout campus, and some restrooms even have signs reminding folks to wash their hands. What does it say about society when an institution of higher education has to install reminders about basic sanitation practices?
  • [Wasn't quite ready to accuse?] clues QUASI-SUSPECTED (from "as I suspected," the phrase everyone uses at the end of a murder mystery party).
  • Finally, QURAN IN THE FAMILY (from "ran in the family") is clued as a [Muslim household's holy book?]. Not as good a punchline as some of the others, but if QUAINT MISBEHAVIN' had been the punchline here too the awkwardness between the two puzzles would have been magnified.
So yes, the puzzles wore the same outfit, but they had different accessories, and that often makes all the difference. Some of my favorite entries in Wentz's version included ABOVE ZERO, BYZANTIUM, HOLD TIGHT, JAM UP, TEPIDNESS, BLOT OUT, QUICHES, DR. KATZ, SILK TIES, and, of course, FREE FALLIN', the classic [1989 Tom Petty hit]. Wentz scored a pangram with the fill, but some of it felt a bit strained. Google verifies that AGENDA BOOK is a valid enough term, I suppose, but it still kinda hurts my eyes and ears. NOT VALID, clued as [Like an expired license], also made me wince. I think most of us would say "invalid" instead of "not valid," and I'm not sure many solvers want a rather arbitrary "not" thrown in before most ADJS [Fast and furious, e.g.: Abbr.]. And UNLAX [Chill out, slangily]? Really? Chillax, sure, but unlax? I think that will bug me until I "untire" to bed tonight.

I would have thought that my second experience with the same theme would have resulted in a noticeably shorter solving time, but such was not the case (in my glacial world, two-and-a-half minutes ain't much faster). Despite the overlapping theme, the only noticeable overlap in the fill comes in the SW of both grids: 112D in Wentz's grid, QBS, is the same as 113D in Nediger's grid. The clue for HOLD TIGHT, [2008 Harlan Coben thriller], slowed me down more than would have a direct clue like [Clutch firmly]. I wanted BAJA for BAHA, [Island band The ___ Men], but I finally figured it out once the crossing [Old Testament prophet] HOSEA fell. Even that proved a little elusive since I had FEAT instead of GEST as the [Daring exploit]. I was also mired at the instersection of LA PLATA, the [City near Buenos Aires], and BRETON, the [Celtic language spoken in France]. Apparently I am not very cosmopolitan. It's true: I have never ventured outside of North America. I've seen much of Canada, the States, and Mexico, but nothing beyond. Even Sarah Palin has seen Russia, albeit from a distance. And yet I finished second to President Obama in voting for the Nobel Peace Prize (we had identical accomplishments, but he photographs better). (It's important to make offsetting political jokes whenever possible.)

Bob Klahn’s freestyle CrosSynergy “Sunday Challenge”
Go figure - my slowest time comes not with the 21x Sunday-sized puzzles but the innocuous little 15x freestyle offering from the master of deception, Bob Klahn. I felt like an IGNORAMUS [Ding-a-ling] throughout much of the solve, but I'm proud to have survived and I admire the construction a great deal. This 70-worder offers four triple-stacked 9s and a grid full of fun entries and knotty clues. In no particular order, here are my ten favorites:
  • [Something hard to make for Easter] is a BOILED EGG. I managed to get the "egg" first but then struggled to figure out exactly what kind of egg would be so difficult to make. Without the usual "?" to signal wordplay, this proved an uphill battle. Of course, we're supposed to apply a different meaning to "hard." (For fans of "The Office," that's what she said.)
  • [Turkey portion] is ASIA MINOR, since a part of Turkey lies in Asia Minor. I had little problem with this, as I have tackled enough Klahnian puzzles in my day to know right away that this had nothing to do with the bird many of us feasted upon a few days ago. And yet I couldn't do the same with the flippin' boiled egg. Again, the lack of a question mark here might have thrown off several solvers.
  • A VEGAN is [One not likely to bring home the bacon]. Easy enough clue (it gave me my entry into the grid), but highly entertaining.
  • Controversial radio personality DON IMUS also has a great clue, ["My goal is to goad people into saying something that ruins their life" speaker]. When I first read the clue, I had only the N and I in place. I thought that the speaker was likely a trial attorney, but none of the usual names of famous trial attorneys seemed to work. When I later had --NIMUS, I then convinced myself that the speaker was a Roman philosopher. Maybe someone modest named Minimus. Then, I got to -ONIMUS and I was still stuck. Finally (true story), once I got the D from the crossing, I wondered who the Roman Donimus might be. Only after I thought to myself, "What an unfair entry to place in an otherwise nice grid," did the light bulb come on. This confession may cause me to lose authorship privileges on this blog. If so, it was fun while it lasted.
  • [Wimpy bud] is POPEYE. Sure enough, I tried to squeeze in the name of some lame flower. At first glance, PEONE looked good with the crossings I had in place, but that extra square got in the way. I'm a little mad at myself for not getting this one sooner, especially since Wimpy was only one of my favorite characters in all of cartoons. "For a hamburger today, I will gladly repay you Tuesday."
  • CALL ME MADAM is a [Musical title all of whose consonants are Roman numerals]. And even though they are out of order, they add to 3,700. I had the first M in place when I came to this clue, so my first thought was MADAME BOVARY until I realized the B and the R wouldn't work. Then I wondered if MAME had a longer title. With a few more letters down I tried the famous palindrome, MADAM I'M ADAM, thinking maybe someone made a musical by that name (a great opening number would be "Able Was I, Ere I Saw Elba"). Eventually I got it, though really I could not have told you before the solve that there was a musical by this name.
  • [Tang, e.g.] clues ORANGEADE. Not sure why I could plunk this down without any crossings, but I did. Got lucky, I guess.
  • To [Focus directly] is to TAKE DEAD AIM, just a great, lively phrase.
  • [Took a flying leap] clues VAULTED. I spent a decent chunk of time trying to come up with a synonym for "beat it" or "am-scrayed."
  • Finally, [Boston and Chicago aides] are ROADIES. Of course, I don't think of the bands, I think of the baseball teams. There's the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox, so I was sure the answer had something to do with socks. As with most of my hunches in this puzzle, I could not have been more wrong.
A really terrific grid and clues that worked to mire me in the ooze of stuck for a long time. The SE was especially deadly. I have seen the SAMPAN before (it's a [Mat-roofed, flat-bottomed boat]) but it felt completely foreign to me during the solve. The clue for ADAGE, [Sampler sentence], still eludes me, so anyone who wants to help me out should please explain in the comments. I had never heard of Roger Ebert's book, "I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie," so the clue for HATED left me empty. And I couldn't figure out AMORY, ["The Proper Bostonians" writer Cleveland]. Even with the first three letters of these words in place from the crossing downs, I was befuddled for a long time. The NW corner also took a while, but once I figured out that the LLAMA was the [Animal on Peru's coat of arms], the rest fell fairly quickly.

Roger Ebert may have hated, hated, hated some movie, but I liked, liked, liked this puzzle even though it nearly defeated me. Thank you, Sir Klahn. May I have another?

My Trip to Atlanta
Before I hand the baton back to Orange, allow me to share a slightly off-topic anecdote that readers of this blog will appreciate. In my job I am lucky (?) enough to travel around the country a fair amount for various conferences. I am a slave to my frequent flyer miles, so I almost always fly on the same airline when I can (I won't mention the name of the airline, but it seems to have an awfully high number of flights to Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks). Anyway, one of the first things I often do after taking my seat on a plane is to pull out the airline's magazine and see if it has crosswords. Sure enough, my frequent-flyer airline has a 23x puzzle every month, but I'm pretty sure the grid and the clues are computer-generated because it's never much fun and the clues violate many of the standard clue conventions.

But earlier this month I had to fly on a partner airline (and for reasons that will soon be apparent, I have no problem disclosing that this partner airline was Delta). When I checked the back of Delta's Sky Magazine, I discovered that they run an old NYT 15x crossword and a couple of Sudoku puzzles. I was pleased to see that Delta sprung for a good puzzle, so I pulled out my trusty solving pencil (aka The Death Wand) and set to work. When I read the clue for 1-Across, I actually dropped the Death Wand. It was my debut puzzle from October 2008! Sure enough, my name was printed alongside the grid near the fold. I have only had two puzzles in the NYT (so far - there are some in the queue), so the odds of this happening are, by my precise computations, remote. I was completely floored. For the first time ever, I took the magazine off the plane with me.

By the way, at one point I needed to stand during the flight and stretch my legs (it was a long flight to Atlanta). Rather than stay by my seat near the front, I decided to walk to the back of the cabin just so I could see whether anyone was working the puzzle. It has always been my white whale - I have never seen someone actually solving one of my puzzles (not that I have had many of them out there to see people solve, mind you, but still). I saw two people working the Sudoku puzzles and no one working the crossword. Sigh. But that's just a small hiccup in what was otherwise the coolest flight I have taken in years.

Well, that's the story. Again, I thought that if anyone would appreciate the thrill I had it would be this group. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.


November 27, 2009

Saturday, 11/28/09

CS (Janie)
Newsday 5:20 (joon—paper)

PuzzleGirl here with you again. Whenever I sit in for Orange on late-week puzzles, I have a little panic attack about the fact that I might not be able to solve the puzzle. I mean, that's just a fact. I've improved a lot over the past couple years, but it's not a given that I can finish a Friday or Saturday New York Times puzzle. And let's just say there's a really good reason that I don't volunteer for the Saturday Stumper. How did I do this week? Find out after the jump.

Oh, but before we get started, I understand there was some discussion over here a while back about the various PGs in CrossWorld and how they (we) should be ranked. I believe I ended up as PG2 behind Paula Gamache. Which is fine. There's no way I'm dumb enough to think I belong in front of Paula on the list. But it occurred to me that I wouldn't even be in the second spot if you guys had remembered Peter Gordon. So. I decided that as long as I'm going to end up a ways down the list anyway, I would prefer to be PG-13. I think that should work for everybody.

But enough about me. Let's see what I think about the puzzles.

Karen M. Tracey's New York Times crossword puzzle

So, what do you think? Did I finish this one? With no mistakes? Why, yes. Yes, I did. Yay me! I struggled a bit, especially in the NW, but I stopped the clock just barely past 30 minutes, which is a few minutes faster than my average Saturday time. It's actually making me feel a little cocky about this year's Puzzle Five, but I'm sure I'll regret that.

Where did I stumble? I had the SSION in place for [What a student might not go without?] and wanted the answer to be some sort of EXAM instead of PERMISSION SLIP. (Actually, my first thought was LAPTOP or IPHONE or something, but ... that's totally inappropriate.) EXAM led me to believe "Pooh-Bah" came from THE MASONS, which seems reasonable. I mean, since FLINTSTONES and HAPPY DAYS wouldn't fit. (Correct answer: THE MIKADO.) Entering TOLL BOOTH for TOLL PLAZA didn't help things down there. But it all eventually worked itself out.

RIKKI TIKKI TAVI showed itself pretty early. What with all those Ks in place, it could hardly be anything else. But I could hear ANNIE LENNOX singing "Talk to me / Like lovers do ...." Turns out that's a whole different song than STEVIE NICKS's "Talk to Me." I also had ELUDE for EVADE and ALLER for AVOIR down in the SW for a while. And since [Pathology pioneer Sir James] PAGET and [18-season Mariner EDGAR Martinez] were total guesses, I'm actually kind of surprised that corner pulled itself together.

There's obviously a lot more we can talk about with this puzzle, but there is a slice of pumpkin pie in the kitchen calling my name so let me get the L.A. Times puzzle out of the way and I'll see you back here tomorrow.

Alan Olschwang's L.A. Times crossword puzzle

I thought we might have a theme going with the two double-Z answers: MEZZO-SOPRANO and JACUZZI (22A: Carmen, for one / 38A: Maker of many jets). But no. Then when I saw more Scrabbly letters, and thought we might have a pangram on our hands. But no again. All it needs is an effin' F. Bummer.

Stuff I did not know:

  • 19A: Zen enlightenment (SATORI). Sometimes considered the first step toward Nirvana.
  • 10D: Belgium winter hrs. (CET). Whoa, what? That would be Central European Time.
  • 13D: Former Tennessee Titans tight end Kinney (ERRON). Insert your own err-on-the-side-of-caution joke here.
  • 24D: Sprites of Persian mythology (PERIS). Apparently they rank between angels and evil spirits. Kinda like humans, I guess.
  • 50D: "The Hustler" author Walter (TEVIS). I didn't know "The Hustler" was originally a novel.
  • 62D: Knotted pile carpet (RYA). It's a traditional Scandinavian rug. If you do a Google image search, you see a wide variety of colors and designs, so I'm not sure what it is that makes these rugs their own category. Something about the wool or the knots I think.
Other stuff I noticed:

  • 33A: Inexpensive kids' toy (PAPER DOLL). I'm pretty sure toy makers have discovered a way to make paper dolls expensive.
  • 47A: Classic Jag (XKE). I always want there to be a J in this answer. And there never is.
  • 4D: Derby town (EPSOM). Epsom, Essex, Sussex ... they're all the same to me unfortunately.
  • 34D: Dallas Mavericks owner before Cuban (PEROT). Kept reading this as "Dallas Mavericks owner Cuban" and couldn't figure out why Mark wouldn't fit.
  • 39D: Golfer Babe who was a six-time AP Female Athlete of the Year (ZAHARIAS). So, yes, I know her name was Babe, but "Golfer Babe"? That doesn't seem right somehow.

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Backup Plan"—Janie's review

As the Congreve saying goes, "Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast," and this puzzle—which takes lively, everyday phrases and re-purposes them with a musical twist—hath its charms as well. Lotta smile factor in this one as Patrick gives a shout-out to both classic rock 'n' roll and classic Motown with:

• 20A. MIRACLE WORKER [Member of Smokey Robinson's group, while performing?]. Pick a tune, any tune.
• 27A. CRICKET MATCH [Sports contest for a member of Buddy Holly's group?]. Oh, I loved Buddy Holly and the Crickets as a kid. Still do. Here's why.
• 43A. SUPREME COURT [Legal venue for a member of Diana Ross's group?] Let's hear it for the girls!
• 51A. COMET CLEANSER [Soap for a member of Bill Haley's group?]. Bill Haley and the Comets were just about the first folks to get the ball rollin'. And popular music was never quite the same.

The four groups that Patrick singled out provide more than a trip down memory lane. Each one made a real difference to the genre; each is still listened to today—and not only by the boomer generation. I'm so grateful for radio shows like Felix Hernandez's "Rhythm Review" on WBGO that spin soul's and rhythm 'n' blues' best. It's worth checking out on line if you don't live in the New York area.

I wish the cluing in this puzzle were as much fun as the rangy fill. Here are some of the words and phrases I liked best:

• PALM PILOT [Hand-held organizer brand];
• FAT CAT [Major campaign contributer]. Oh—and on the subject of campaigns, I liked seeing TED ["Liberal Lion" Kennedy] and KERRY [2004 ballot surname] in the grid;
• TAP WATER [Fluid from a faucet]. New York's is mighty good;
• HEARTH [Fireplace floor];
• TYPECAST [Given similar roles repeatedly]. It beat not being cast at all, but also speaks to some lack of imagination. And not only among the casting directors...
• ICE SHOW [Skating exhibition] (where you might enjoy some SNO [___-Caps...]);and finally—how often do we see this:
• "ET TU, BRUTE?" [Famed Shakespearean last words]. It's the phrase in its entirety. Be still, my heart!

Barry C. Silk's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"—joon's review

this is, by a fair amount, the easiest stumper i've ever done. i started by knowing 1a (EMMA watson, who plays [Hermione in the "Harry Potter" films]) and proceeded through the puzzle, never really getting hung up anywhere. most unusual for a stumper. i liked several of the answers a lot, especially AIR GUITAR, WHIFFLE BALL, and DOMO ARIGATO. i think there were fewer tricky clues than usual. a few that i enjoyed:

  • [It takes weeks to complete] is not any particular task, but merely a MONTH.
  • [One held for questioning] is not a person, but a TEST. we held a test last week to "question" our students on physics, i guess.
  • [Tag line] is the AS IS that might appear on a tag at a yard sale or flea market.
  • a few outright traps: [___ reader], four letters? nope, not UTNE this time (note the lowercase r): it's MIND reader. [Unrefined], CR___? i put in CRUDE, but it's CRASS, meaning unrefined socially rather than chemically.
  • [Augustan-era poet] is not a poet from the augustan era of english literature like pope or swift, but VIRGIL, who wrote during the reign of augustus caesar. but i almost feel like you had to be overeducated to fall into this trap.
  • a couple of unnecessarily stuffy clues: why [Elusive one] for DODGER? nobody uses DODGER to mean one who dodges, unless they're talking specifically about a draft dodger. there's no real alternative for a word like RESHUT, but DODGER is perfectly cluable via the baseball team. and [High-frequency sound] for TWEET seems hopelessly out of touch, given that 99% of the time TWEET now means twitter posting.
clue i still don't get: [Safe to crack] for PETE. huh? is this an adjective or a noun? a person (pete safe)? no idea.


Daily Beast, 11/27/09

"Second Helpings" - 14:09

Welcome to another edition of Crosscan blogs Thanksgiving Puzzles.

The party never ends. Well if it must be Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for another cool Matt Gaffney creation.

115A: [Food you might be eating today – and the theme of this puzzle] – THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS. And the food is all over, stuck in the middle of familiar phrases.
23A: [Manufacturing one specific piece of sports equipment?] – CREATING A SQUASH RACKET
36A:[Comment about Mr. Luciano’s bowling ability?] – LUCKY ROLLS STRIKES. Do you know what three strikes in a row in bowling is called? A turkey! 47A:[Yiddish cries] – OYS!
56A:[“You’re forbidden to smoke when you’re not indoors”] - IT’S COLD TURKEY OUTSIDE.
80A:[Rigging a supposedly fair election?] – SECRET BALLOT STUFFING.
94A:[Golden opportunity you’ve got to grab quickly?] – EXPRESS GRAVY TRAIN.

1A: [God with a twin sister] – APOLLO. Artemis is the twin.
15A:[Cary’s ex] – DYAN Cannon. Cary (nee Archibald Leach) Grant’s exes also include Virginia Cherrill, Barbara Hutton, Betsy Drake. His last wife was Barbara Harris.
29A: [70 W, e.g.] – RTE. It will take you from North Carolina to Arizona.
30A: [Barkin and Raskin] – ELLENS. Why go with Raskin when you can use Ripstein?
35A: [Have A NAX to grind]. You don’t see many naxes around anymore. What? AN AX? Oh, much better.
46A:[Tossed back bacon] – ATE. Tref!
49A:[Hottie of long ago] – PINUP. See also DYAN and 62A:[Actress Larter] – ALI.
50A: [rotf, perhaps] – LOL. Rolling on the floor and laughing out loud.
76A:[Stopped working, as a car] – DIED. This can happen sitting in a parking lot waiting for your wife using the battery with the engine off. Yes, it can. Sigh.
86A: [Ancient city outside of Atlanta] – ROME. Ancient history experts, please explain.
101A:[Upcoming NASA launch vehicle] – ARES. Future astronauts will ride to orbit on Ares I, which uses a single five-segment solid rocket booster, a derivative of the space shuttle's solid rocket booster, for the first stage. A liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen J-2X engine derived from the J-2 engine used on Apollo's second stage will power the crew exploration vehicle's second stage. The Ares I can lift more than 55,000 pounds to low Earth orbit. (NASA website)
120A: [Sword that may lead to gold] – EPEE. Olympic reference!
2D: [Matthew or Luke] – PERRY. Get your mind out of the bible and back into network TV where it belongs.
5D: [“Serve again”] – LET. I don’t think crosswords would be possible without tennis.
15D: [Cicero’s 761] – DCCLXI. Nobody’s perfect.
37D: [River that separates North Korea and China] – YALU. I don’t think crosswords would be possible without foreign rivers.
59D:[Superman, at birth] – KAL-EL. The greatest super-hero. Period.
72D: [Giant chicken on “The Family Guy”] – ERNIE. I don’t think crosswords would be possible without giant chickens.
78D:[Culs-de-sac: abbr.] – CTS. I’m guessing courts?
96D:[Blackwater founder Prince] – ERIK. I don’t think crosswords would be possible without Blackwater founders.
Musical corner:
48A: [Johnny Cash’s “The Ballad of IRA Hayes”]
51D:[Soul great Redding] – OTIS
60D:[Jamie Foxx song “Can I TAKE U Home”]. A song title only a crossword constructor could love.

Canadian content:
124A:[2003 health crisis] – SARS. Nearly shut down Toronto. I got my H1N1 shot yesterday so I am invulnerable like Superman.
95D: [Former Aykroyd co-star] – RADNER. Dan Aykroyd is Canadian, not Gilda Radner.
100D:[“Wayne’s World” comeback] – AS IF. Mike Myers is Canadian. Hey, an excuse to play the Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody.


WSJ, 11/27/09

WSJ 28:55 (Sam, paper)

Todd McClary's Wall Street Journal Crossword, "Unreal Estate"

McClary combines some well-known landmarks with some common business terms to unleash some groaners involving an unscrupulous hypothetical realtor. In this case, the solver finds the correct business term to complete each pun. Observe:

  • [The crooked realty agent tried to sell some sucker the Golden Gate by offering a...] BRIDGE LOAN. All you need is the first one to get the idea of how the theme will work. I like that.
  • [He tried to sell the National Mall, describing it as...] CAPITAL PROPERTY. This one hurt my ears a little. I have heard of capital assets and capital expenditures, but not "capital property." Granted, I'm a recovering tax attorney, so maybe this is a common enough term in other, considerably less hip-and-happening business circles. But "capital property" just seems repetitive and redundant.
  • [He tried to sell the Great Lakes, claiming they were...] LIQUID ASSETS. Badum-ching! (It's times like this when one could use a personal drummer to deliver the rimshot right after the answer.)
  • [He tried to sell Alcatraz, even drafting a contract with a...] LOCK-IN CLAUSE.
  • [He tried to sell the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade route, even arranging for...] BALLOON PAYMENTS. This was my favorite of the bunch, maybe because it comes fresh on the heels of the parade. I hear the Pillsbury Dough Boy was reintroduced to this year's parade. I would have been happier if the Geico gecko has gotten the call instead. Is a nearly all-white balloon that difficult to create?
  • [He tried to sell the Crystal Cathedral, fabricating a...] CLEAR TITLE. I figured this one out in due course, but I don't think I have ever heard of "a clear title" before. I always thought one simply has (or lacks) "clear title." So to me, replacing "fabricating a" in the clue with "claiming to have" would have been better.
  • [He tried selling the Brandenburg Gate, offering to take care of...] CLOSING COSTS. I was unaware of the Brandenburg Gate until I Googled it just now and realized that I had seen it before but never knew its name.
  • We get one more international property to conclude: [He tried to sell the Tower of Pisa, passing himself off as a...] LISTING AGENT. Hmm. If the theme answer contains "agent," then I suppose the first theme clue should have referred to a "realtor" instead of a "realty agent." But I didn't notice that until writing this entry, so I can't say this interfered with my enjoyment at all. Did you notice it while solving? If so, did it bother you?

I like that all of the domestic landmarks occupied the across slots while the two European landmarks were in the down slots. I'm not sure whether that was intentional or serendipitous, but either way it's cool.

Usually when solving the WSJ, I have to use the fill-in-the-blank clues to gain entry into the grid. This time, I got lucky at 1A, quickly deducing IKEA as the [Seller of Bjursta tables and Bertil chairs]. But then trouble soon followed, as the [Japanese writing form] KATAKANA was a stumper for me, and it took me way too long to realize EVA PERON was the woman [...given the title "Spiritual Leader of the Nation"]. I also got stuck trying to parse out WEBELOS as the [Badge-earning level after Bobcat, Tiger Cub, Wolf, and Bear] for Cub Scouts. (My brother was an Eagle Scout but I never got into it.) Despite these stalls, I managed to finish within my typical range of "3-4 Oranges" (three- to four-times as long as it takes Orange).

I liked several of the clues in this one: [Feeling discomfort in waves] for SEASICK; [Yao Ming teammate, to fans] for T-MAC (that's Tracy McGrady of the NBA's Houston Rockets, for those who aren't CAGERS [Court figures]); [Muppet singer of "Doin' the Pigeon"] for Ernie's old buddy, BERT; and [Regular setting?] for BARSTOOL. I also found the fill in this grid to be quite elegant and smooth. The triple-8s in the NW and SE corners were nice, and the stairstep progression of 4-letter across and down entries from the SW to the NE helped the mid-section fall relatively quickly. Some might quibble with dual ONS (ON AUTO and STARTS ON), but I didn't notice it until after I was done. So despite some misgivings about some of the theme entries and their clues, this puzzle was a welcome Friday diversion.


November 26, 2009

Friday, 11/27/09

CS (Janie)
WSJ (Sam, separate post)
CHE 4:14 (joon, paper)
BEQ 5:33 (joon, across lite)

Hi, everybody! PuzzleGirl here continuing the Thanksgiving Weekend Potluck here at the Crossword Fiend. Amy is off somewhere without internet access which, seriously. I don't even like to talk about it. It must be what hell is like. Our electricity was out yesterday for about three hours and all I can say is Thank God For My iPhone. Not sure I would have survived without it.

Ed Sessa's New York Times crossword puzzle

So what do we have going on today? Well, this week's Friday themeless NYT is pretty fun. I finished it in a little over half an hour, but just knew there was something wrong up there in the NE corner. The doctor's name [DENTON] was somewhere waaaay back in my brain, but when it made it all the way up to the front of my brain it was spelled Dennon. Which made 11D look like it was going to be SNAP-something for [Fasten with a click], right? Perfectly reasonable! But then ... it didn't work. So I tried enable, because an E in that spot seemed okay even though it gave me an artist named Libpi, who is, unfortunately, equally as known to me as Fra Filippo LIPPI. So 11D went from SNAP ON to ENABLE to the finally correct STAPLE. What else did I have trouble with up there? IDA seemed like a good name for a county in Idaho and since there was nothing resembling ARISTOS at 8A [British V.I.P.'s, to Brits], the I seemed perfectly fine to me.

More trouble spots for me include the NW where I had DOGS instead of BOGS for [Things near Baskerville Hall]. Obviously, thinking "The Hound of the Baskervilles," right? And I can never remember how to spell [1950s-'60s NBC host] Jack PAAR's name. I've convinced myself that it's the more "normal" Parr, so I get it wrong every time. I have the same problem with Ryan O'Neal and Tatum O'Neal. I know how Shaquille O'Neal spells his name so every time I'm faced with Ryan or Tatum, I can never remember whether it's the same as Shaq or different. (The only reason I got it right this time is that I looked it up.)

I like all three of the long answers: A WING AND A PRAYER for [Hope born of desperation] is awesome. A LEG TO STAND ON for [Justifiable basis for one's position] is typically only referred to in the negative, right? As in "He doesn't have a leg to stand on." And TURKEY LEFTOVERS for [Post-Thanksgiving fare]? Let's just say I'm totally looking forward to those tomorrow!

Also enjoyed seeing LOW MAN as a figurative figure on a totem pole, and colloquial phrases like LET 'ER RIP ["O.K. ... go!"] are always welcome.

Dan Naddor's syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword

Ya know, there have been times when I've thought to myself "This puzzle has an old-timey feel to it." Well, today is definitely one of those times. This one is chock full of puns on things from, well, centuries ago! Looks like Dan finally decided to go medieval on us!

  • 17A: Medieval commuter between Dover and Calais? (CHANNEL SERF [surf]).
  • 22A: Medieval castle owner's view? (BARON [barren] LANDSCAPE).
  • 34A: Manages medieval real estate holdings? (MINDS ONE'S MANORS [manners]).
  • 46A: Medieval lord's efforts? (FEUDAL [futile] ATTEMPTS).
  • 53A: Weapons for medieval warriors? (KNIGHT [night] CLUBS).
Seems to me the LAT is continuing the trend of raising the difficulty level. There weren't a whole lot of across answers I could get with none of the crosses in place, and that's usually a good indication of difficulty level for me. Of course it might just be because of the five long theme answers and the funky, chopped-up grid, but whatever. It felt a little more difficult than we've seen the last couple months and that's a good thing.

Not a lot really jumped out at me on this one, but that's probably because I'm in a turkey coma and it's late. So I'll just mention a few things and then get my butt to bed.

  • I've never heard of Jack OAKIE [Jack of "The Great Dictator"] and am going to guess that's age-related.
  • KENYA is a [Country known for its distance runners]. Have any of you read the new book about the Indian tribe in Mexico that runs barefoot? I think it's called Born to Run. Ah yes, here it is. I haven't read it yet, but it looks pretty interesting. One of the main points the book makes is that the worst thing a runner can do is buy expensive, overly engineered running shoes. If you're interested in running, check it out.
  • I know how much people love to see rappers in the grid, and today we get two! NAS ["Thugz Mansion" rapper] and DIDDY [Bad Boy Records founder, as he's now known]. I will never — ne-Ever — understand why he wants to be known as DIDDY. Just doesn't make sense to me.
  • And, finally, I'll leave you with this musical interlude. Hope you enjoy it. [Cereal bit] = FLAKE.

Tyler Hinman's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Internal Dialogue"—Janie's review

Taking the cruciverbal baton from Patrick, Tyler continues with another puzzle that has the puzzle's key concept word embedded in the theme phrases. Yesterday we had multiple opportunities to eat; today, as we learn at 37A., we have several ways to SPEAK [A synonym for it can be found inside this puzzle's four longest entries]. By way of an "internal" word for "dialogue," we can chat, talk, jaw or yak. And here's how it's done:

• 17A. PITCH A TENT [Set up camp]. I like the way chat spans the three words of the phrase.
• 23A. "MORTAL KOMBAT" [Violent video game franchise that debuted in 1992]. Wanna guess what I've never played?... This game is available, btw, through SEGA [Company that released the unsuccessful Saturn and Dreamcast consoles]. Gamers probably knew this, but it was news to me that not only is there a "Superman" video game, but there's also "'Mortal Kombat' vs. DC Universe" in which Superman is a featured player—which I mention because of the [Comics character with a secret identity]/CLARK KENT combo that's also in the puzzle. I do like the skillful way Tyler uses fill skewed to younger solvers within well-tried theme ideas. Same goes for:
• 46A. NINJA WARRIOR [Japanese TV import involving obstacle courses]. If you say so. It is for real (you can even watch full episodes on line), the base phrase is solid, of course, and at least I have heard of "The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
• 57A. "GO FLY A KITE!" ["Buzz off!"]. See 17A. for why this one also appeals.

Though it's not in infinitive form, as I read it, we also get a bonus with SEZ [Utters, informally], first person singular of say...

I was surprised to see SOWN clued as [Placed, as seeds]. When I think of something being "placed," I see it being done in an orderly way—and often seeds are "placed" very carefully in the ground or in containers. But when they're sown, they're scattered or strewn, no?

And I have to wonder if there's an "anger management" issue being hinted at as a sub-theme. After all, the grid presents us with TIRADE [Angry outburst] which crosses RIOT ACT [It's read to a misbehaving child] (please, oh please read the kid a fairy tale instead!). Additionally, there's [Gets in a lather] for RILES and [Battling] for AT IT. (I was actually relieved to see EAT AT clued not in connection with annoyance but quite directly as [Go to, as a restaurant].) What's the source of the anger? Sometimes we direct it at ourselves when we [Mess up], or ERR; sometimes it's directed at others, like the pitcher who [Messes up on the mound], or BALKS.

My suggestion? "Breathe in green; breathe out blue." Listen to music that soothes you, like maybe an OPERA [Diva's setting] or a single ARIA [Diva's highlight]; make like a tourist and visit a museum. MoMA, perhaps? Yes, it's an [N.Y.C. attraction...] but it's not only [...for aesthetes] (thinking here of the negative connotation of the word).

Oh—and thanks for (the) MEMORY/[Something's that's banked?]. Some days mine seems to be double-locked in a seriously subterranean vault.

Did you know CINC? It's clued as [Prez] and I needed to look this one up. It's an acronym not unlike POTUS (President of the United States). Except this time the letters stand for Commander in Chief. Oh—and on the topic of acronyms, I smiled to see FIAT [Italian carmaker that recently partnered with Chrysler]. Seems those letters have come to stand for Fix It Again, Tony...

Ed Sessa's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Natural Progression

happy day after thanksgiving, everyone. joon here with the lowdown on two more puzzles today. we get a double dose of ed sessa today, as he pairs his clever subtly-themed NYT with a nice CHE puzzle whose theme is a "natural progression" given by the puzzle's seven circled three-letter answers. it's a word latter from APE (14a, [Beginning of a natural progression]) to MAN (70a, [End of the natural progression]). the word ladder goes APE -> APT -> AFT -> OFT -> OAT -> MAT -> MAN, but the five words in the middle are all embedded in longer entries:

  • to [Change with the times] is ADAPT.
  • [Glider's booster] is an UPDRAFT.
  • a [Marshmallow], metaphorically, is a SOFTY. i like this word, but i think i'd normally spell it SOFTIE.
  • [Thick breakfast] is OATMEAL. this is the only one where the embedded word is etymologically related to the longer entry. i didn't really mind, though.
  • my favorite of the theme clues was [Stick in a book] for MATCH. great misdirection there! not only does it sound like a verb, but you don't normally think "matchbook" when you see "book."
to top it off, the two longest answers in the puzzle form a two-part companion to the theme: the [1859 publication concerning this puzzle's natural progression] is darwin's THE ORIGIN / OF SPECIES. that's 150 years ago; wikipedia tells me it was published on november 24, so this is an anniversary puzzle of sorts (or at least, the closest that the CHE could get given its once-a-week basis). very cool. what else was notable about this puzzle? the crazy plural MENISCI [Cartilaginous crescents] is not often seen; MENISCUS, of course, is common enough, although i associate that word with graduated cylinders and/or capillary rise rather than connective tissue. (i know it means both, but i've just finished teaching the unit on surface tension, so the latter meaning is on my mind.) speaking of irregular plurals, i wanted [Forearm bones] to be ULNAE, but it's ULNAS this time. the crossing letter is "Ambition should be made of STERNER" stuff from julius caesar; that's a good shakespeare quote. there were a few unfamiliar clues and answers. ["Gift from the Sea" author Lindbergh] is ANNE. [19th-century African-American congressman Joseph] is RAINEY; that's the sort of academic trivia i love about the CHE puzzles, but i had no clue on this one. it was all crosses. and the word that gave me the most trouble was CAUSERIE, an [Informal chat]. never heard of it, and i was waffling on C vs L for the first letter, where it crossed NFC, clued as [The Minn. Vikings belong there]. once i had the rest of the letters, though, C looked much more likely. Brendan Emmett Quigley's themeless blog crossword brendan goes asymmetric with this 64-word themeless, resulting in very smooth fill for such a low word count. i liked CALLED IT, ["As I predicted"], best, but overall the fill was more notable for lack of crap than for brendan's usual pizzazz. there were some pained inflections, of which my least favorite was REMELT, and a couple of abbreviations i didn't like (NAV for navy being the worst), but it's really quite clean for a grid this demanding. clue of the year nominee: [Pass the bar, perhaps] for TEETOTAL. loved it! i also liked how the miami HEAT, clued as [2006 NBA champs], are opposite in the grid from WADES, or [Gets cold feet?]. anybody who watched the 2006 NBA finals knows that dwyane WADE (we really need to get his crazy first name into more puzzles) carried the HEAT to the title that year with an insanely dominant postseason.


November 25, 2009

Rex Parker celebrates birthdays

Happy 40th birthday to my friend Michael Sharp, the man known as Rex Parker! Tomorrow is his birthday as well as Thanksgiving. To celebrate, Andrea Carla Michaels and Doug Peterson made a crossword in Rex's honor. The "King of the Blog" puzzle is posted at the Fiend forum.

You know who else is celebrating a birthday this week? Rex's favorite crossword-solving actress, Christina Applegate. Michael created a crossword for Christina's birthday, spotlighting the foundation she started to fund MRI screening for young women at high risk for breast cancer. This puzzle is called "Star Turns," and it's available in Across Lite and PDF at the forum. You'll also want to read the Rex Parker blog post about the genesis of the puzzle. If you can spare a few bucks, please consider joining Michael and me in donating to the foundation, which I won't name here because it's a spoiler for the puzzle (both links in this paragraph are for pages that include a link to the foundation).

Have a happy Thanksgiving (unless you're Canadian or South African or whatnot), everyone!


Thursday, 11/26/09

NYT - 6:01 (JK - paper)
LAT - oops, clock wasn't on
CS - untimed
Tausig - 11:27 (JK -paper)

Hi everyone. Jeffrey here. Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers. Happy New Year’s Eve to our syndicated readers. Happy Thursday to everyone else.
Happy Birthday to Rex Parker who is now older than me. Check out the previous post for more on this milestone, including two related puzzles and a great cause that needs your support.

Despite holidays, birthdays and Thursdays, like the mail in Seinfeld, the crosswords never stop, so the blogging must go on! Amy is nowhere to be found so Team Orange is on duty to replace Her Fiendness. I must be Turkey Prime, as I get to go first. However, as a Canadian, I'm afraid there'll be no more mention of Thanksgiving.

Paula Gamache's New York Times Crossword

The theme is 51A: [What 20-, 31- and 40-Across were each introduced as by 47-Down] PARADE BALLOONS in the 47D- MACY’S Thanksgiving Day parade. Hey! Darn.
20A: [Introduction of 1977] – KERMIT THE FROG
31A: [Introduction of 1927] – FELIX THE CAT
40A: [Introduction of 1963] – ELSIE THE COW

14A: [First step in a series] – A TO B. There is no Atob.
17A: [Rabanne who was the costume designer for “Barbarella”] – PACO. What a lucky break! Today at work, someone asked me who the costume designer for “Barbarella” was. What are the odds (that any part of that is true)?
25A: [Thoreau’s “On Fields OER Which the Reaper’s Hand Has Pass’d”]. Land of the free, we miss you.
36A: [Head of the Egyptian god Thoth] – IBIS. Every part of that sounds weird.
38A: [A slowpoke may be asked to pick it up] – PACE. Pick up PACE, PACO. Jane Fonda is waiting. Somewhere, a lonely “the” sits alone.
56A: [RAREE] show. Can you say RAREE without show? I’ll have my steakee raree, please.
1D: [Sound on “Batman”] – ZAP! Hard one. Could have been BAM!, POW! Or if this was a rebus, SPLAT!
2D: [Letter after Z] – ETA. Z is pronounced “zed” today.
11D: [Marie Osmond’s ADORA Belle dolls]. Awwww. Isn’t that cuutttte.
12D: [“CAROL of the Bells” (holiday favourite)]. Wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.
30D: [Frozen drink brand] – ICEE. Perfect with that steakee.
35D:[Loser of 1948] – DEWEY. Lost to Truman, right? More American stuff.

"Prime Time Practice" by Ben Tausig.
The theme is revealed at 56A/71A [People whose names begin the starred entries] - SCREEN MDS, or "I'm not a doctor but I play one on TV". We have 4 TV doctors:

28A: [*Find the source of some corporate malfeasance, say] -PIERCE THE VEIL. Dr. Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) from M*A*S*H.
48A: [*Holy place] - HOUSE OF PRAYER . Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) from House.
62A: [*Mental material] - GREY MATTER - Dr. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) from Grey's Anatomy.
17A/21A: [Long-running PBS concert series] - AUSTIN CITY LIMITS . Colonel Steve Austin (Lee Majors) from The Six Million Dollar Man. Never knew he was a doctor. Well, it could be Dr. Kate Austin (Christine Lahti) on Chicago Hope. A quick check with other members of Team Orange shows similar confusion.

Other stuff you might not know:

24A: [Text type] : SMS - Short Message Service, what you use for cellphone text messages.
27A: [Lee Myung-bak's country, for short] - ROK. Republic of Korea (South)
34A: [Plitvice Lakes National Park country] - CROATIA. Banff - Canada. Yosemite - USA. Plitvice Lakes - Croatia.
39A: [Time off, in mil. slang] - RNR - Rest "N" Relaxation. R&R is better.
51A: [MST 3K (cult show)] - Mystery Science Theater 3000
59A: [Lamas of "The Bachelor"] - SHAYNE. No idea. Related to Lorenzo Lamas? Yup, daughter.
66A: [Quadratic function subj.] - CALC. Calculus. joon, please explain the difference between integral and differential calculus.
68A: [Publisher whose second and third children were born 35 years apart] - HEF. Hugh Hefner.
7D: [Common occasion for leaving work early: Abbr.] - FRI. Memo to my staff: I'll need a bit more than "It's Friday. I'm leaving early."
10D: [Starting a tic-tac-toe game at one of the edges, say] - BAD MOVE. Edge being a non-corner and non-center square. It could work in Hollywood Squares. You fool! (Steve Austin reference in this link).
24D: [Tattoo, in a way] - SCARIFY. New word to me.
30D: [Celtics guard Rajon] - RONDO. Of the Boston Celtics.
31D: [Jamiroquai's "(Don't) Give HATE A Chance"] - Lots of unknown-to-me in this puzzle.
46D: [Pen name for "The Conning Tower" columnist] - F.P.A. Franklin Pierce Adams. PIERCE again. I should know this?
57D: [Grammy-winning blues musician Robert] - CRAY. Here with Eric Clapton.

Lila Cherry’s Los Angeles Times Crossword
The theme answers are all clued [Turkey] (the last with a “?”). Sigh.
63A: FRIDAY’S SANDWICH. I think this is implying leftovers from Thursday feast.
3D: [Turkish currency] – LIRA
52A: [Lake surrounding Canada’s southernmost point] – ERIE. Trivia question – How many US states are at least partly north of Middle Island, Ontario? Answer – 27!
And in the downs, the World’s Most Eclectic Musical Set:
1D: [“Mamma Mia!” band] – ABBA.
26D: [‘60s song car with “three deuce and a four-speed and a 389”] - GTO
30D: [Greek New Age Keyboardist] – YANNI........oh, sorry, fell asleep for a minute.
32D: [Musical buzzer] – KAZOO.
54D: [Hendrix hairdo] – AFRO.
I leave you with 51D: [Slovenly] – FROWZY. Frowzy? Frowzy?

Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Gobble, Gobble!"—Janie's review

Thanksgiving already—when Tom Turkey says "Gobble, gobble!" (translation: "Please have roast beef instead or maybe send out for some General TSO's chicken or, hey—maybe a nice BLT!!"), and so many of us will be with family or friends indulging ourselves as we enjoy (translation: "gobble down") our feasts (traditional or un-) and maybe even take a moment or three to think about what it is we're genuinely thankful for. For some, there'll be hours of watching football; for others, hours of prepping for the main event, since—as we're prompted at 71A.—the [Popular thing to do on Thanksgiving (and word that's hidden in 17-, 29-, 47- and 60-Across)] is EAT. And eat and eat and eat and eat as in:

• 17A. SURPRISE ATTACKS [Unexpected acts of hositility]. May our lives be from any more of these...
• 29A. DAVE ATTELL [Comic with the 2007 HBO special "Captain Miserable"]. Never heard of the guy—but then again, I don't subscribe to HBO, and to judge from these quotes, I may not want to. Then again, there's not a lot of stand-up that's funnier in print...
• 47A. SEA TURTLES [Crush and pals, in "Finding Nemo"]. Hmm. Never seen this either, but I have this sneaking suspicion it's more my speed...
• 60A. DEFENSE ATTORNEY [Johnnie Cochran, at the Simpson trial]. And may our lives be free from any need for one of these... I liked seeing this fill directly below ABA [Legal org.] and was thankful to see that the correct fill was not POET LAUREATE-related.

Some other highlights include:

• MAN/[Answer to the riddle of the Sphinx] (nice fresh clue here)
• MANIC [Frenzied] and MAD, clued as [Humor magazine since 1952]
• the side-by-side implement pair of PICK [Icebreaker] and RAKE [Tool for deciduous foliage]
• AMENITY/[Chocolate on a hotel pillow, e.g.] (I love the specificity of the clue)
• DRAPE/[Hang], and then farther down the row, EAVE/[Place for an icicle] (i.e., where an icicle might hang...)
• VENAL/[Easily bribed] (I've heard of venal sins [as in the seven deadly ones], and had seen the word in other contexts, but never knew its literal meaning, so I learned something new yet again. And the next word in my dictionary? Yesterday's vena cava...]
• STRAW/[Float accessory], so that would be this kind of float and not this kind of float... The latter, btw, was from the Rose Bowl Parade—not to be confused with ROSÉ [Wine choice]. You might enjoy that with your Thanksgiving dinner!

Hope it's a happy holiday for all!